The Goose Rocks Beach Advisory Committee wants to expand water quality monitoring and is asking the town for funding. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald Photo

KENNEBUNKPORT — The Board of Selectmen in Kennebunkport will take under advisement a Goose Rocks Beach Advisory Committee’s request that they fund testing to reveal the source of Fecal Indicator Bacteria in water samples taken at the beach, and related water quality matters.

GRB Advisory Committee member Jon Dykstra told selectmen on Oct. 14 that a 2021 Maine Healthy Beaches report showed 20 percent of 65 samples tested in 2018 and 2019 for DNA showed a human source.

While Fecal Indicator Bacteria can also come from rodents, dogs, deer, seagulls and other similar sources, he said nonhuman waste is considered not as dangerous to humans.

According to the Maine Healthy Beaches program of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Fecal Indicator Bacteria are associated with the fecal material of humans and other warm-blooded animals. The indicator bacteria themselves might not make someone sick, according to MHB, but their presence suggests that pathogens that could cause illness may be present.

“You can have a high number (of bacteria) and not have human waste at all,” Dykstra told selectmen. “We know we have a high indicator, but we don’t know the significance of it … we don’t know if it is showing a concentration of dangerous bacteria and that is something we would really like to get a handle on,” he said.

The advisory committee sent a resolution to the selectmen’s board, outlining that GRB is one of two beaches in the state with test results that exceed the EPA’s recommended safe levels, and that an advisory posting due to high Fecal Indicator Bacteria is frequent at both tidal rivers, among other matters.

“This came out of a continuing concern involving water quality,” said Dykstra during the online selectmen’s meeting.

The GRB Advisory Committee is asking that the town consider funding to look at the variability of sampling techniques, the effect of tides, higher rainfall, and other factors — a more scientific approach, said Dykstra. He noted there are some properties in Goose Rocks Beach that use septic systems and long term — depending on what is revealed with further sampling studies — the GRB Advisory Committee may request that the sewer system be extended in the area. Portions of the GRB community utilizing  septic systems are areas near Batson River  in Goose Rocks Beach and Little River, which includes both Kennebunkport and Biddeford.

The committee is asking that the town dedicate funding through the American Rescue Plan or other sources to maintain monitoring and expand testing during wet and dry weather events and differing tide cycles, integrating wind speed and wave height; prioritize identification and remediation of human fecal sources; investigate and upgrade wastewater and storm water infrastructure; expand education and outreach initiatives; and promote low impact development by restoring vegetative buffers and reducing impervious surfaces, and the like.

Selectman Allen Daggett asked if the committee had talked to Biddeford officials.

Dykstra said that there were initial talks and a collaborative partnership would be important.

Goose Rocks Beach Advisory Committee Vice Chair Kate Burke said her property, and others where she is located, are all on septic systems and said the heavy rains this summer could have contributed to high test readings. She said she has been told some people don’t want to go to the beach because the water “looks bad.”

“Obviously, we’re concerned about human health and the health of the beach,” Burke said, and noted water quality is becoming more of a concern to the public. She said warning signs are put up when the water tests poorly. “We don’t want GRB putting aside any issues of danger to humans, but we also certainly don’t want it to get the reputation of a polluted beach,” she said. Burke noted that from a business standpoint, “if this beach suddenly continues to get worse and winds up being denoted a polluted beach, it will end up having an effect on everybody in town.”

Dykstra said the critical part now is to understand what the Fecal Indicator Bacteria measures.

“We keep putting up these signs saying oh its polluted. We don’t know its polluted,” said Dykstra. “We know the FIB is there, but we really don’t know if it means it is dangerous.”

If human fecal matter is not shown, that lessens the concerns “tremendously,” he said, and noted the water flowing from the rivers into the sea will always brown due to mud and suspended organic material.

Kennebunkport has demonstrated a  commitment to improving water quality in the Goose Rocks Beach watershed and ensuring a safe beach experience for residents and visitors, according to the 2021 MHB report, which can be found online at: https://www.kennebunkportme.gov/public-health-department/pages/maine-healthy-beaches-and-water-quality

The 49-page MHB report noted that in 2018, Kennebunkport increased the frequency of routine beach monitoring at Goose Rocks Beach and Colony Beach to twice  per week. Additionally, Kennebunkport has continued partnering with MHB and others to incorporate enhanced pollution monitoring and outreach efforts in the GRB watershed into ongoing beach management.

“I’d like to know more definitively what the DNA says as well,” said selectman’s board Vice Chair Ed Hutchins. “We don’t want to alarm people unnecessarily.”

“Well, we are, unfortunately,” said Dykstra.

“We’ve got a winter to work through this,” Hutchins said.

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